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Thursday, September 4, 2014

Adoptees' Voices: PA HB162

This is another post by Jenn, Susan's daughter. Susan passed away on April 7th, 2014 after an 8-month battle with melanoma.

"I was fifteen years old when I understood how it is that things break down: people can't imagine someone else's point of view." - Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor in her autobiography My Beloved World

When Pennsylvania's Senate Committee on Aging and Youth reconvenes this month, they will consider HB162, a law that would allow adult adoptees access to their birth certificates. The measure passed the Assembly unanimously in the spring, but it is unknown whether or not it will have the votes to make it out of this 11-member committee. If it doesn't, more adoptees like my mom will have no access to information about their heritage, including crucial medical information that may save their lives. This, as well as the fact that the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference continues to lobby hard against it, is heartbreaking to me. I cannot fathom how they (leaders of the Catholic Conference, senators considering a "no" vote) don't yet "get it" and can perpetuate such an injustice. I am writing tonight as one more voice pleading for them to "imagine someone else's point of view," that all important bedrock of justice in our country. And, to be fair, I must let them, and all of you, know that I, for years "didn't get it" in the way that I should have. My mom, an adoptee herself, didn't get it until she was 50 years old and had to sit across the desk from someone, an employee of the agency that facilitated her adoption, and hear that she could not be handed the file of her most personal information, a file only mere feet away, because in the one, impersonal phone call the agency made to the birth mother, that mother had been scared and said no.


My mom with my girls in Disney, 2010. 

A few weeks ago, my dad, my sister, my aunt Jo (my mom's sister, reunited with her last September, before my mom's death in April), and my Uncle Doug (my mom's brother, also adopted, raised with my mom) gathered at my dad's shore house in Long Beach Island. There, we read together letters that my mom had exchanged in 2003 with the agency that facilitated her adoption. We all shook our heads together when we read the agency's response to one of her first letters. The agency's letter began, "It is with great compassion that I write this letter,"  and ended "I hope you are able to understand our position." After that, we read my mom's response. Here it is:

In response to your recent letter, I would have to answer no, I do not understand your position in this contemporary age, especially in light of the fact that you still facilitate closed adoptions. From my perspective as a 52-year-old adoptee, closed adoptions make no sense, not in this age when genetic research is transforming medicine and the way we view behavior, practically by the day. 

Your voluntary search program was a good start, but it is not sufficient. In fact, the process makes me feel like a paralyzed infant, because once again, your agency holds all the power, and my interests have been sublimated to these secrecy pacts you have endorsed and apparently continue to endorse. There is no way that I can feel my birth mother was forthcoming with medical information, as your letter strongly suggests, when ______'s exact words to me were: "Even in that area, I felt like she was holding something back."

Why should I, as the adoptee, be asked to honor an agreement that was flawed and didn't consider my best interest in the first place? It is well and good to protect birth mothers from their friends and neighbors, but not from the human beings they bring into the world, and for life. Every person should have the opportunity to explore where he or she has come from. Babies are not commodities -- they grow into adolescents and adults, many who want to know the truth and are unwilling to accept the legal fiction this closed system has forced upon them. 

I would ask you once again to consider how little I am asking for. I never said I desired a reunion, although I wouldn't have turned one down. I want to deliver a letter to my birth mother in my own voice in the hope that it may touch her and allow her to provide a little information. I have promised not to approach her again, and I'm fully prepared to accept the fact that her need for denial is so strong that she may be unable to do this. But shouldn't I have the right to try? In not attempting to facilitate this healing, you have once again made the decision to completely ignore the adoptees' feelings. Can you even begin to imagine how this makes me feel? ...

And then, in her next letter (after she was told there would be no attempt to compromise):

Your unyielding position makes me feel totally violated as a thinking, feeling adult.... Why can't you take the mildest of risks and meet me somewhere in the middle on this issue? I remain totally disgusted by your self-serving, hypocritical stance. And while you may be able to block my ability to heal and thwart my search, fortunately for me, you cannot control my voice. At least that is one power I still possess -- the power of the pen.       Sincerely, Susan T. Perry

I beg of you, any of you who have made your way to this site today, but especially those who live in Pennsylvania, to use the power of your voice to speak up so that no one else has to go through what my mom did. If you have questions and still don't "get it," please ask! I am happy to answer your questions, and I won't yell at you. I will, however, tell you the truth. Once you do get it, write! Below is the contact information for all of the Senators on the Pennsylvania Committee on Aging and Youth. I think they especially need to hear from members of the adoption triad (adoptees, original parents, and adoptive parents). Please pass this on to anyone in Pennsylvania you know.

In addition, I would ask any Catholics to write to the Catholic Conference to let them know you oppose them lobbying against this bill. For me, this is personal. Catholics, if true to their faith, should be worried about protecting the powerless, and supporting this bill would at least allow the adult adoptee some semblance of power over his/her own life.

LINK TO SENATE AGING AND YOUTH COMMITTEE (click for full information on each Senator and snail-mail mailing addresses, if you are so motivated. Just click on the Senator's name on the list to the left -- options for Twitter and Facebook as well!):
http://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/cteeInfo/index.cfm?Code=1&CteeBody=S

SENATORS ON THE COMMITTEE AND THEIR E-MAIL ADDRESSES:

Chair, Senator Randy Vulakovich (District 40): (must click on link above and e-mail via form)
Minority Chair, Senator Sean Wiley (District 49): senatorwiley@pasenate.com
Vice Chair, Senator Scott Wagner (District 28): swagner@pasen.gov
Senator Joseph Scarnati III (District 25): jscarnati@pasen.gov
Senator David Argall (District 29): dargall@pasen.gov
Senator Lisa Baker (District 20): lbaker@pasen.gov
Senator Bob Mensch (District 24): (must click on link above and e-mail via form)
Senator Elder Vogel Jr. (District 47): (must click on link above and e-mail via form)
Senator Judith Schwank (District 11): SenatorSchwank@pasenate.com
Senator Michael J. Stack (District 5): stack@pasenate.com
Senator John Yudichak (District 14): yudichak@pasenate.com

Pennsylvania Catholic Conference (click on "Contact" - top right):
http://www.pacatholic.org/
I especially ask all Catholics of good faith to contact them and ask them to stop opposing HB 162. In other states (Ohio specifically), Catholic leaders have REVERSED THEIR POSITION on this bill and supported it as "the right thing to do." Catholics in Pennsylvania could also do the right thing.

Thank you, everyone, for honoring my mom by using your own voice. Thank you for pleading for the rights of others simply because you care about doing what is right.
With a full and hopeful heart, Jenn

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